Anti-White Bias vs. Anti-Black Bias: The New Issue of Racism

recent New York Times  “Room for Debate” discussion asks the question, “Is anti-white bias a problem?” The debate centers on a recent study published inPerspectives on Psychological Science which finds that whites think racism is a “zero-sum game they are now losing.” According to the study, whites believe they are now more of a “target of discrimination” than blacks are. Simply put, they believe anti-white bias is a larger problem than anti-black bias.

But is anti-white bias actually a bigger issue? No, and this belief highlights a major dilemma in the movement for racial equality in the United States.

While anti-white bias does exist, it is not a larger problem than the historically, institutionally and psychologically-entrenched behemoth of anti-black bias. Anti-white bias, unlike anti-black bias, is almost always interpersonal, i.e. individuals inflicting individual harm. (Furthermore, suggestions that affirmative action policy is an example of structural anti-white bias are blind to benefits the policy has had on white women and the true racial realities of who “loses” with affirmative action.) Anti-black bias, on the other hand, is historical, structural and psychological. It happened for hundreds of years, was legally sanctioned, is psychologically damaging and continues to play a major role in our lending, housing, educational, and criminal justice systems. The same cannot be said of anti-white bias.

A greater challenge to our society than anti-white bias is the belief of it – the belief that whites are oppressed or harmed by policies meant to redress past and current racial harms against minorities. This belief is problematic because the movement for racial equality (and against anti-black bias) in the United States depends on white compliance and acceptance. From the beginning, many fighting for racial equality have focused on inclusion into the white mainstream. This inclusionary focus is evident in major policies and time periods that have had a mostly positive impact on racial equality, including Reconstruction, desegregation in public schools, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and affirmative action policy.

But if even well-intentioned whites believe bringing about racial equality is against their interests, this inclusionary focus must be re-tooled in order to prevent the movement for racial equality from stalling. The movement must evolve into a solidly two-pronged effort. It is not enough to focus on policy solutions based on white beneficence or on the notion that most Americans understand the ways in which racism operates under structural and other guises. Furthermore, it is not enough to demand more from our black President. No, the movement must take on another, and equally as strong, arm. The movement should also focus on community-level solutions that do not depend as much on the increasingly fear-based opinions of many whites and elected officials.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Matthew Clair

Matthew Clair is a PhD student in sociology at Harvard. He regularly contributes to The Diverse Arts Project.

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